On a day when several Patriots appeared to sustain various degrees of injury, Rob Gronkowski continued to plow through another full-pads practice. His health status is being closely watched by many observers this summer after he finished last season on injured reserve with yet another back injury (his third major one which required surgery to repair).
"I'm good to go, out there every play. Whatever they need me to do," the tight end declared Wednesday.
Injuries to multiple parts of his body have begun to take their cumulative toll on the 28-year-old Gronkowski, he acknowledged, which is why he decided to try a new diet and fitness regimen recently – the TB12 Method espoused by his on-the-verge-of-40 quarterback, Tom Brady, and Brady's personal trainer, Alex Guerrero.
"As you get older you start feeling it more, for sure. I remember [my] first, second year in the league, I could just go home and I used to just not really do anything. But now as you get older, it just felt like it was that time in my career where I just really needed to focus on it and go to the next level or else I could've possibly been out of the door. So just wanted to take it to the next level and keep on going.
"I look at [Brady] and he turns 40 [on August 3] and he runs around like he's younger than me. So it's pretty obvious right there."
Gronkowski maintains he already notices a difference after a short time on the new diet.
"I just feel good. I feel good," he emphasized. "Dinners are super healthy. But after this type of workout, you need that type of stuff. That's when you want all those nutrients. That's when you want to eat it. So, he cooks them for me, I eat them. It's going well."
Allen catching on
After an admittedly slow start during the spring, Gronkowski's tight end teammate, Dwayne Allen, is beginning to show positive signs of why the Patriots traded with the Colts to acquire him during the offseason. Allen has been noticeably more confident on the practice field and exhibiting better receiving skills than he displayed in May and June sessions.
"I've definitely got to knock the rust off," Allen told reporters. "I think any time you're adjusting to a new quarterback, new offensive system, new everything, there's going to be some struggles. I certainly had a lot of those early on. But I'm coming out here each and every day, working my tail off, getting better. That's all you can expect."
Allen will also be counted on to provide assistance as a blocker when New England runs the ball, and he welcomes the additional workload.
"I'm going to be required to be stout at the point of attack, and that's something that I've always taken pride in," he continued. "Coach [Bill Belichick] has always done a great job of putting players in the best position for each individual to succeed, and I'll believe that I'll be put in those positions to be the lead point blocker a lot this year.
"I'm getting better day-by-day. With an offense that's been developing for 18-some odd years, I'd be a fool to say that I've mastered it or even come close to that. But I put in the work every day, and every day I come out here and get a little bit better."
Second job for Develin
With the retirement of Rob Ninkovich this summer, the Patriots suddenly had a job opening not only at his defensive end spot, but also at backup long snapper, a role Ninkovich held for the past eight seasons.
At Wednesday's practice, fullback James Develin stepped in for the first time as the understudy to starter Joe Cardona. He spelled Cardona for a few snaps during the punt team period and worked for several minutes on his snaps after practice.
"Yeah, [the coaches] just kind of said, 'Hey, we have a vacancy. We need somebody to be able to long snap,'" Develin explained, "and I said, 'Hey, I can long snap.' So, we'll see how it goes."
The 29-year-old first experimented with long snapping a freshman at Brown University. His then-senior teammate Zak DeOssie, the New York Giants' long snapper today, gave him some basic pointers and Develin worked on his technique for the next several years during practices. Although he never was called upon to long snap in a college game and it's been eight years since he last attempted it, Develin is eager to refresh his skills for the Patriots and is having fun doing so.
"I've just been trying to work on it and add stuff to my repertoire, make myself as valuable to this team as I possibly can. If it's lead blocking [in the running game], it's lead blocking; if it's long snapping, it's long snapping. Whatever they need me to do, I'll go out and do my best.
"It's unconventional," he added, "but you just have to practice and try to get it as technically sound as possible. Joe Cardona's a great guy to learn from and watch what he does, take some critiques that he has. It's definitely a learning process. I'll try to keep learning and get better at it."
Buy: Deatrich Wise –The rookie defensive end is getting increased opportunities and making the most of them.
Sell: Jonathan Freeny – The veteran seems to be dropping on the linebacker depth chart.
Play of the Day: During 11-on-11 action, second-year cornerback Jonathan Jones made a tremendous athletic effort to intercept a Tom Brady pass in the end zone. Brady was targeting WR Julian Edelman, who was running left-to-right across the goal line. However, the ball was slightly behind Edelman, allowing Jones to reach up with one hand and bring the ball into his body, even as Edelman did his best to try to break up the play. Jones hit the deck with the ball still in his possession.